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Oil trains moving frequently through Wisconsin

  • Article by: MATTHEW BROWN
  • Associated Press
  • July 8, 2014 - 11:55 AM

More than three dozen trains carrying volatile crude oil move through Wisconsin each week from the Northern Plains, disclosures from railroads show.

State officials released the information in response to a public records request from The Associated Press.

The disclosures show BNSF Railway is the primary hauler of oil, moving between 26 and 44 trains per week along an eight county route that parallels the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin. Canadian Pacific Railway moves on average four trains a week along a route that crosses from La Crosse southeast to Milwaukee, then down into Illinois.

Each train can carry about 3 million gallons of oil.

Federal officials ordered railroads to turn over details of the shipments to states after a string of fiery accidents involving oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada. Before the Bakken began booming about five years ago, very little oil moved by rail in the U.S.

Derailments of Bakken tank cars have caused explosions in North Dakota, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma and Quebec, where 47 were killed when a runaway train crashed into the city of Lac-Megantic last July.

Railroads had tried to shield the information from broader disclosure in Wisconsin and other states, citing security and business confidentiality. But Wisconsin officials said its release would promote public awareness, and was required under state open record laws.

Some other states have agreed to withhold the information from the public.

Tod Pritchard, a spokesman for Wisconsin Emergency Management, said the notifications provide limited information, but still should prove useful. He said they already have been shared with other state and local agencies through a closed website.

The disclosures reveal general routes and a range of how many oil trains pass through. There are no details on volumes or when exactly the trains are moving.

"Obviously if we had more that would be helpful, but what we're getting from railroads will be good enough to at least give a sense of overall what's going on in the state," Pritchard said.

A third railroad, Union Pacific, submitted a notice saying it does not run Bakken crude oil trains exceeding the 1 million gallon reporting threshold in Wisconsin.

© 2014 Star Tribune